Outsourced to Publius of Obsidian Wings:
Obsidian Wings: Robert E. Lee - Not a "Bitter-Ender": Richard Cohen pens an odd column today arguing that Clinton’s refusal to stop campaigning is evidence of her “leadership qualities.” Great leaders, Cohen argues, don’t quit. But then he uses a rather odd historical example to support his point — Robert E. Lee:
In the end, no one begrudges a bitter-ender. Robert E. Lee is not vilified because he fought on too long, wasting lives -- and all of it, mind you, in the cause of slavery.
Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but one of Lee’s greatest virtues is that he quit long before he actually needed to. In this respect, Lee directly refutes Cohen’s argument.
In April 1865, Lee had a fateful choice. Sure, the war couldn’t be won in the traditional sense. But Lee could have turned his battle-hardened army into a guerrilla outfit that could have harassed federal armies for decades. To his eternal credit, he declined to do so. Choosing guerrilla war would have made post-war North/South tensions even more poisonous than they were (with longer lasting effects).
In short, the United States would have had a dramatically different history — not for the better — if Lee had indeed been, as Cohen claims, a “bitter-ender.”